Image above doesn't show the supporter interviewed for this piece, via.
This article originally appeared on VICE Greece
Hooliganism, like racism or electro-swing, is something you'd imagine humanity might have evolved beyond by now. But here we are.
Although organised violence between supporters might have peaked in Britain near the end of the 1980s, it's still pretty common to see burly blokes bashing each other's heads in purely because they each support different teams. Take, for example, the battle in Marseille between the two titans of hooliganism – Russia and Britain – during the 2016 Euros. Or what happened just last weekend when Wolves played Birmingham.
In Greece, organised violence among football supporters started appearing during the 80s, and had its "golden age" in the 1990s. One of the people involved in the riots every weekend was Niko, a hardcore PAOK Thessaloniki fan. I've known him for years and I've never really understood that side of him. I've also never asked him about it – so I decided to sit down with him to find out what it's like to cause mayhem and destruction because you think your football team is good and other teams are shit.
VICE: Do you remember the first time you got into trouble for being a PAOK supporter?
Niko: It was in high school, with a "Martian" – that's what we call fans of Aris Thessaloniki FC. We got into a fight about the basketball teams of both clubs, because back then Aris was the only rival basketball team of PAOK. I don't remember exactly how we got to the point that we were fighting each other. I only know he later became an Anchovy – a fan of Olympiakos.
Do you ever contemplate the pointlessness of throwing punches and doing so much damage just because your team is playing a rival team?
Well, yes. Sometimes I do, especially when I'm outside the context of the match, like in a shop or a bar. I've been attacked while just having a drink with my friends. That's just stupid. It wasn't too bad in the end, because I was able to explain to the guy who attacked me that the bar wasn't the right place for fights – save it for a match. Generally, taking part in this kind of violence is a form of release for me, but only if it happens when and where it should.
Why did you get involved in this scene?
When I was younger my father took me to our local team playing PAOK. We were in the stands. Until that moment, I had no idea fandom like that existed. They won me over with their energy, their slogans – just the whole vibe gave me the goosebumps.
What's the worst thing you've ever done to a fan of a rival team?
The worst thing I can remember happened on another night when I went for a drink with a friend. Out of nowhere two rival supporter groups popped up and began chanting. They lit flares and I didn't know what was going on until some guy punched me and I hit the ground. When I got up I saw that my friend was down and four people were beating and kicking him. I didn't think, I just grabbed an empty beer bottle and ran towards them.
But just before I got to them, the guy who punched me appeared in front of me and I immediately brought the bottle down on his head. I hit him twice, hard, since the bottle didn't break the first time. He was drenched in blood and I froze for a second. After that, my friend and I ran away because the bar owner had called the cops. The strange thing is that the next day that same guy found my number and rang me to apologise for everything. So that's how the matter ended. It was all good times.
Have you ever been severely beaten up?
I have been beaten up and I have beaten other people up – never with weapons, though; always just with my fists. Although, thinking about it now, the body can be a terrible weapon. Someone head-butted me once, which left me with a broken nose.
Can you hang out or have any kind of relationship with someone who supports another team, or does that always end in blood and tears?
Oh, it's definitely possible. When I meet people who like the same music as I do, for example, it doesn't really matter to me what team they support. You'll tease each other a bit when their or your team loses, but that's about as far as it goes. I'm married to an Olympiakos fan, but she doesn't get involved. She'll just say her team is and will always be the best. If she sees that I've taken the bait, she'll stop there.
So say you're in this big fight between supporters of your team and another, and you suddenly see a friend who supports that other team – what would you do?
Well, fortunately, that hasn't happened yet. I certainly have friends who support other teams, and I guess that what would happen depends on what they would do. It would be complicated, for sure.
What, in your recollection, is the most extreme damage you've ever done?
I think that must have been one time when a group of us went looking for a guy who had messed with a kid from our group. He was supposed to be at a bar, but when we got there it turned out he wasn't. Since we were already there, we trashed the bar anyway.
Which of your sworn enemies do you hate the most?
The worst – in my opinion – are the Martians [fans of Aris Thessaloniki FC]. They can't be trusted – they're all talk and propaganda. After them, the Anchovies [Olympiakos supporters], definitely.
What was your craziest day as a football supporter like?
One day, after we'd seen the PAOK football team play a match, we went from Thessaloniki to Trikala to watch the PAOK basketball team play – knowing full well that they wouldn't let us in. When we arrived and I saw some friends collecting rubbish bins to set on fire, I knew it was going to be a long day. We kept going at it with the cops; I think it lasted for about two hours. We completely wrecked the city centre. I remember just standing there, in the middle of all these people, bars and cafés, just throwing flower pots at everything and everyone.
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